Talking Turkey – the Rahmi Koç VW collection

Travel

Scattered around the world are many private collections and museums containing the odd Volkswagen, but few are as impressive as the Rahmi Koç collection in Istanbul

Words and photos: Bruno Cianci

The Rahmi M. Koç (pronounced ‘Coach’) Museum is a private industrial museum in Istanbul, Turkey dedicated to the history of transport, industry and communications. For car lovers, it stands out for the variety and quality of the vehicles on display that, of particular interest to us here on VolksWorld, includes a number of classic Volkswagens.

Started decades ago by the Turkish industrialist of the same name, this surprising collection comprises some 16,000 items and is constantly evolving, thanks to the passion of its founder. The honorary president of a group with an annual turnover of over 21 billion euros, Rahmi recalls the genesis of his museum: “When I was a boy, my father, Vehbi, brought me an electric train from Germany as a gift. Thus my passion for mechanical toys and industrial objects was born. Over time, this passion has grown so much, both in number and in the size of the objects themselves, that my houses, offices and warehouses were no longer sufficient to contain them.

“Then, after a visit to the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, I finally understood what I should do: gather all my objects under one big roof.”

And so in 1994, Rahmi inaugurated his museum in the district of Hasköy, located on the northern bank of the Golden Horn, the deep inlet that for centuries has been the natural port of Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul.

Enlarged considerably in 2001, the museum now covers a total area of 27,000m2, making it as large as St. Peter’s Square in Rome. It is divided into two main areas, the Lengerhane (House of anchors) and Tersane (Shipyard). The former is a 12th century Byzantine building, which was previously used as a foundry by the Ottoman navy. The latter was the dockyard of the 19th century Ottoman ferry company, Şirket-i Hayriye, and has a characteristic horseshoe shape, with a boat dock in the middle, a slipway and a steam winch, surrounded by numerous historic boats.

The dream garage
Unsurprisingly, as Rahmi Koç’s business interests include building and distributing Fiat and Ford cars in Turkey, the museum includes a large collection of approximately 150 road vehicles, many of which are housed in a gallery. The cars on display are frequently rotated, and all but the truly vintage vehicles have their keys in the ignition and are maintained in immaculate, running and driving order.

The core of the car exhibits were produced between 1898 and 1967, and comprise predominantly vehicles of British and American manufacture, though German, Italian and French designs are also well represented.

For the purposes of this feature, we have concentrated on the Volkswagens, the oldest of which is a 1949 Split Window Beetle, purchased in Germany by the late Mustafa V. Koç, Rahmi’s eldest son.

Others include a 1969 Type 3 Squareback, ’63 and ’66 Beetles and coupé and convertible Karmann Ghias. The ’59 coupe features some interesting period updates, which have been left in place as a mark of respect to its history.

A collection on the move

Given the museum’s popularity, many of the exhibits have been donated, or lent, which helps keep the ever-evolving collection fresh. Despite his venerable age (89) Rahmi himself is still very active in managing the museum and expanding its collection, recently buying seven Fords and a Lincoln from a Bonham’s auction in the Netherlands, while an entire collection of Soviet cars were donated by a collector in Azerbaijan.

Not all cars on display come out of private collections, others, such as a 1958 MGA, were bought as restoration projects and rebuilt in the museum’s workshops. For Rahmi’s belief is that all exhibits were made to be functional, and that is the way they must be preserved.

Yep, we like this guy.

And there’s more…

There are three Rahmi M. Koç museums in Turkey. In addition to the main one in Istanbul, there is one in Ankara, Rahmi’s home town, and another in a deconsecrated, and immaculately restored, Greek Orthodox church at Aykalik, on Cunda Island.

For further information, see www.rmk-museum.org.tr